A resolution calling for the federal government “to implement best management practices for wild horses and burros by allowing for equine slaughter and processing for shipment” died recently in Wyoming’s state legislature.
The Senate Agriculture Committee failed to advance on a 2-2 tie. A fifth committee member was absent due to illness.
The sponsors of the resolution hoped to send a message to Congress about what they see as a rangeland crisis that they blame on the number of wild horses in the state.
While pleased that the resolution has failed, Return to Freedom sees this as an opportunity to engage the resolution’s backers in an ongoing conversation about the humane management of wild horses and burros.
Better, more sustainable management is possible if Congress funds – and federal agencies properly implement – a robust program that includes adequate amounts of safe, proven and effective fertility control. Return to Freedom has long advocated for the use of fertility control that can help keep wild horses and burros on the range while saving taxpayer dollars over time.
Ranching and hunting groups that backed the Wyoming measure should seek mutually beneficial management solutions that safeguard the future of both public and private land.
In 1976, Congress mandated that public lands be managed for multiple uses. Those uses include wild horses, burros and other wildlife, private livestock grazing, energy extraction, public recreation and more.
The threat of climate change-driven drought to fragile rangelands with already limited water and forage should motivate all stakeholders to seek science-based solutions, not zero-sum proposals like the failed Wyoming resolution.
Horse slaughter: a non-starter
This much is certain: Americans and the Congress that represents them are not willing to see healthy wild horses and burros killed:
–For the federal government to allow wild horses and burros to be captured and sold to slaughter, Congress would need to amend the Wild and Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed unanimously by Congress, and other federal laws.
The Act does state that “additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist [can] be destroyed in the most humane and cost-efficient manner possible.” Over and over and over again, the American people and Congress have said “no” to that.
In fact, in 1981 and 1982, the BLM did euthanize 47 “excess animals.” The public outcry was tremendous, and it lead then-BLM Director Robert Burford to ban the destruction of healthy wild horses or burros for the purposes of management.
–Since then, Americans have only come to see the potential for wildlife to co-exist or live in harmony with humans.
A landmark 2019 study by Colorado State University found that between 2004 and 2018, the number of people in Western states who viewed wildlife in traditional, utilitarian ways with prioritization of human needs and management for human benefit declined by 5.7% The percentage with mutualist opinions grew by 4.7%.
The study found that across all 50 states, mutualists (35%) outnumber traditionalists (28%) as well as pluralists (21%), those who hold a more situational view of management, as well as those who lacked a well-formed opinion (15%).
–In federal funding bills, Congress has also repeatedly barred the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service from killing healthy wild horses and burros or selling them to slaughter.
–The country’s last horse slaughter plant closed in 2007. Since then, Return to Freedom and other advocates have successfully lobbied Congress to prohibit funding for horsemeat inspections, creating a year-to-year ban on horse slaughter inside the United States. Support for a permanent ban continues to grow.
Better, more humane options exist
Return to Freedom knows that opportunity exists here because we have done the legwork. Being able to engage in discussions with varied stakeholders is important and the stakes are high.
Legislators in Wyoming may not be aware of the progress of bipartisan, divergent stakeholders working toward non-lethal wild horse management solutions. We see this as an opportunity to educate them about scientific modeling of multiple management approaches, including utilizing adequate levels of fertility control to manage wild horses on the range in a way that the broadest range of stakeholders – and the American people – will accept.
In March 2022, the BLM estimated the total population of wild horses in Wyoming at 4,734.
That came after the agency’s largest-ever helicopter roundup saw the removal of 4,158 wild horses from their home ranges in southwestern Wyoming and 37 killed. The BLM released 659 of the captured horses, treating just 297 mares with fertility control that could slow population growth without halting it, reducing future roundups and removals.
Prior to the roundup, the BLM estimated that there were 5,105 wild horses, not including foals, on five Herd Management Areas. They currently have a combined agency-set “Appropriate Management Level” of 1,550-2,145 horses.
By comparison, the roundup area overlaps 32 livestock allotments for seasonal grazing with a total permitted use of 191,791 Animal Unit Months, the equivalent of 15,983 cow-calf pairs annually. One AUM equals the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow-calf pair, one horse or five sheep for one month. Actual livestock use amounted to about half that maximum between 2010-20, according to BLM.
Wild horse wipeout
Now, the BLM is finalizing a Resource Management Plan amendment that will likely strip millions of acres from wild horse use in the Checkerboard region of southern Wyoming — a move that Return to Freedom strongly opposes.
The BLM is amending its Resource Management Plan in order to comply with a consent decree it entered into in 2013 with the Rock Springs Grazing Association, a livestock group that sued to have wild horses removed from the Checkerboard.
There is no question of the significant challenge of managing wild horses and livestock over a 2-million-acre area of alternating blocks of private and public land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.
Calling for horse slaughter is a non-starter with Congress and citizens, and scapegoating America’s wild horses and burros will not advance the much-needed conversation about the future of our shared public lands.